Fellaini key with Pienaar and Gibson missing

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Marouane FellainiPA PhotosMarouane Fellaini: A timely return to action for the derby

David Moyes leads his team into Sunday's derby looking to improve on his dismal record in the fixture. In 23 meetings, Moyes' Everton have won just four with Liverpool winning each of the last three and seven of the last ten at Goodison Park. In light of the dour recent record, Evertonians require a big performance from the manager and his players on Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, Everton will have to do so without two key players. After his ludicrous sending off at QPR, Steven Pienaar will serve a one-match ban whilst Darron Gibson is still short of fitness and will not feature. In other team news, right back Tony Hibbert could return after playing for the Under 21s on Monday. Aside from the players mentioned, David Moyes has a fully fit squad at his disposal.

- Mirallas: Fellaini will be fit for derby

In spite of the absence of Gibson and Pienaar, the likely return of Marouane Fellaini is a major boost. Missing the recent draw at QPR, Fellaini's absence left a major chasm in the Everton midfield. With an unerring ability to win and retain possession, Fellaini is a major focal point for Everton and his return is a huge boost.

The continued absence of Gibson means another chance for the much-maligned duo of Leon Osman and Phil Neville. Comfortable when Everton are in the ascendency, the pair struggle defensively and Liverpool will aim to exploit that. The return of Fellaini is crucial, as he can drop deep if needed. While Gibson is a miss, the biggest miss is Steven Pienaar.

Leaving Leighton Baines without his creative foil, Everton need to ensure that Baines's attacking threat is not restricted. Sadly, the player most suited to taking over from Pienaar, Leon Osman, is required in midfield. Possessing bags of talent and pace, Kevin Mirallas looks likely to be tasked with filling the Pienaar void.

For the visitors, Pepe Reina has trained and could take Brad Jones' place between the sticks. Elsewhere, Lucas Leiva, Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini remain on the injured list with long-term problems. With a number of Brendan Rodgers' starting eleven yet to experience a Merseyside derby, his only decision is whether to opt for experience or stick with the youthful talents of Raheem Sterling and Suso.

While Liverpool have the edge in recent meetings, Everton can draw comfort from their recent home form; Goodison is well and truly re-established as a fortress. In the league, Everton have won and scored two or more goals in six of their last seven home games. Since Arsenal's win in March, Everton are unbeaten at home with the Toffees scoring 24 and conceding just four in the process. Overall, the West Brom game is the only defeat in Everton's last 17 matches.

Across the park, confidence will be high with Liverpool unbeaten in three league games; their best run in 2012. Following the shut outs against Stoke and Reading, the Reds have kept back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in eight months. As Rodger's philosophy begins to take shape, Liverpool travel in search of consecutive league wins; something they have not achieved since December 2011.

The atmosphere will be rasping as both sets of fans back their teams to the hilt. However, it is paramount that the two sides remain disciplined with Everton prone to losing their heads in the derby. Eight of the last ten derby red cards have been blue with Everton having six players sent off in the last seven meetings at Goodison. Producing 20 red cards over the years, no Premier League fixture has seen more dismissals than this one.

As his tenure progresses, the style witnessed at Swansea is beginning to rub off on Rodger's new charges. Liverpool will look to build from the back with passing metronome Joe Allen pivotal to this approach. Should he start, expect Fellaini to pressurise Allen and look to stifle Liverpool's possession game. Fellaini excelled at this during Everton's wins over Swansea last season and Moyes is sure to employ the same tactic this time.

It is imperative that Everton begin in a positive fashion and they will need to press the ball to limit Liverpool's passing options. While the pressing game presents a degree of risk, it can nullify teams looking to monopolise possession. As the clock ticks towards kick off, the nerves kick in and the fans pray their teams can deliver. After years of disappointing derbies, it is time for Everton to deliver.

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